SYDNEY – Billionaire Li Ka-shing agreed to buy Duet Group in a A$7.4bil (US$5.5bil) deal, sweetening an earlier offer, as the Hong Kong tycoon seeks to expand his infrastructure assets in Australia to diversify away from Europe.
In the revised bid, endorsed by Duet, investors will receive A$3.03 for each share in the energy company after including a newly announced special dividend of 3 cents a share, according to statements from the companies. That’s 9% higher than Friday’s closing price for Duet, which on Monday climbed to as high as A$2.93 in Sydney trading.
Duet would give Asia’s third-richest man access to an energy network covering an area three times the size of Hong Kong as the tycoon faces uncertainties in Europe — his biggest market — with a string of elections this year.
The deal, which would be Li’s biggest in the country if completed, will need to be cleared by the government, which in August blocked Li from buying a majority stake in Ausgrid, citing national security concerns.
Three of Li’s companies — Cheung Kong Property Holdings Ltd., Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Ltd. and Power Assets Holdings Ltd. — will split the offer pending shareholder approvals. The deal, expected to be completed in May, is also subject to approval from Duet’s investors and the Foreign Investment Review Board of Australia. The sweetened bid comes more than a month after Duet said it received a A$3-a-share offer from Li.
Shares of CK Property fell, while CKI and Power Assets rose in early Hong Kong trading.
The deal is likely to get approved by Australia’s FIRB because Duet isn’t as sensitive as Ausgrid, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Paul Johnston.
Buying Duet would expand Li’s assets in the country as the Hong Kong billionaire’s companies already own stakes in assets including SA Power Networks, Powercor Australia, Australian Gas Networks and CitiPower I Pty Ltd.
Duet said in a statement that the offer recognizes the company’s “value and future growth platform.” Duet’s assets are attractive because they have good growth potential and will provide a steady long-term earnings, according to a statement from Li’s companies.
Duet’s assets include the Dampier-Bunbury pipeline in Western Australia, a stake in electricity distributor United Energy, gas distribution business Multinet Gas, pipelines business DBP Development Group and Energy Developments Ltd., according to Duet’s website.
”Duet’s assets are all highly regulated in a very stable jurisdiction,” said Justin Tang, director of global special situations at Religare Capital Markets in Singapore.
“They are always attractive in Australia.”
Expanding in Australia would also help Li lower his risks in Europe, particularly in the U.K., which is the biggest profit generator for his flagship firm CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. as Britain’s decision to split off from the European Union threatens to undermine the economy.
He’s also preparing for more uncertainty with elections looming in the Netherlands, France and Germany that could reshape the political landscape in the region in 2017.